Opinion » Editorial

Your tax dollars at work



In tough times, times of financial strife, everyone has something to say about how municipal governments spend tax dollars — and just how many tax dollars there are to spend.

Extrapolating out from this observation one has to conclude that most Whistler residents are content with the way the current council is directing staff at the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) to spend our money — after all, there were only a handful of people at the budget open house last Thursday, Feb. 22.

It's about an $85-million budget this year, in case you are wondering — and it has to be balanced by provincial law (it was $82.5 million in 2017 and $73.5 million in 2016). To get Whistler to a balanced budget, the RMOW needs $38.1 million in tax revenues — that's up about $1 million from last year.

So yes, there is another tax hike on the horizon if the budget is adopted later this spring.

The RMOW is proposing a 2.5 per cent increase for 2018 in property taxes, zero increases for water, 1.1 per cent for sewer and 4.5 per cent for solid waste.

For several years ending in 2015, we enjoyed zero-per-cent increases in property taxes, but in 2016 we saw 1.5 per cent, 2017 saw 1.9 per cent and here we are this year at 2.25 per cent. (We have about $76 million in our reserves.)

The proposed 2018 budget has 144 projects for a total spend of $40.3 million — with the big-ticket items related to infrastructure.

However, it is interesting to note that the RCMP's contracted services look to be about $365,000 and increased transit comes in around $370,000.

Employer labour costs (EI, CPP, municipal pension, health insurance) are also increasing about $300,000, while the cost of labour is also up at $1.2 million. Some new staff have also been added in bylaw, planning and human resources.

Keep in mind that Whistler's population is up around the 12,000 mark now and visitor numbers are up by one million people since 2010. There is no escaping that servicing this number of visitors is expensive — the garbage bins fill up more quickly, more people are skating at Olympic Plaza, using our trails and parks and flushing our toilets.

There is a cost associated with these items.

It's definitely budget time with both the provincial and federal governments releasing their own budgets as well in the last week.

It's the first full budget for the B.C. NDP government and it contained several surprising items, not least of which is a change to the Municipal and Regional District Tax (MRDT).

It was introduced in 1987 to provide funding for local tourism marketing, programs and projects. The tax is intended to help grow B.C. revenues, visitation and jobs, and amplify B.C.'s tourism marketing efforts in an increasingly competitive marketplace.The MRDT is an up to three per cent tax applied to sales of short-term accommodation provided in participating areas of British Columbia on behalf of municipalities, regional districts and eligible entities.

But now the NDP's new budget is allowing those who receive the MRDT to use the money for affordable housing. So going forward, municipalities will be balancing marketing needs and demands for affordable housing out of this budget.

In a place like Whistler where the push for more housing has recently dominated the community, it is going to be hard for the RMOW to argue the money should go to advertising or other projects.

In the just-released budget documents, the MRDT is helping to fund trails, upgrades to parks and lakes, village enhancement and more.

One would hope that a balance can be struck. No one wants the momentum that the resort has gained in recent years to hit a brick wall, but as we have clearly seen in recent months we can't keep up the pace without more staff — and that staff needs to live in reasonable conditions with an affordable roof over their heads.

Whistler also receives provincial funds through the Resort Municipality Initiative program. It also has strict criteria that must be met to use the funds so perhaps there is a way to put some of these funds to projects slated for MRDT money freeing up some of the MRDT for housing.

Right now, there are more questions than answers around this new use of the MRDT but it's not hard to imagine the fallout that could result from pitting its current uses against providing affordable housing.

At the RMOW level, residents can weigh in on the proposed budget, so take the time to read it and comment at whistler.ca following the links to the budget.